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Commentary: The paradox of guns: The more you shoot 'em, the more you need 'em

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 12, 2012 - The reader is excused if he or she has become desensitized to reports of carnage. A surfeit of violence has a numbing effect on the intellect. In combat, GIs used to refer to this phenomenon as “battle fatigue.” Today, American civilians can contract the disorder by simply watching the evening news.

The latest killing spree of note occurred in Tulsa, Okla., where two white males are now in custody, accused of observing Good Friday by randomly shooting black citizens from their pickup truck. The suspects, Jacob England and his roommate, Alvin Watts, allegedly killed a woman and two men, while wounding two other men in five separate shooting incidents. The “allegedly” in the line above refers to the fact that the men have yet to be convicted in a court of law, but there is no doubt about the condition of the victims — they were most assuredly shot.

As of this writing, authorities are hesitant to classify the offenses as hate crimes because motive has not been established. In that respect, I’ll defer to Tulsa City Councilman Jack Henderson who commented in part, “…I think that somebody that committed these crimes were very upset with black people. … That person happened to be a white person, the people they happened to kill and shoot are black people. That fits the bill for me.” Verb confusion notwithstanding, I have to concur with Mr. Henderson’s analysis.

All too frequent episodes of this nature tend to elicit antithetical responses. While some call for stricter gun laws to limit the availability of lethal weaponry, others demand ready access to firearms so responsible citizens can defend themselves. Both positions make sense, with the latter illustrating what I’ll call the gun paradox: Gun violence increases the demand for guns.

The shortcomings of gun-control legislation were demonstrated by last week’s earlier mass shooting in Oakland, Calif. There, a South Korean immigrant named One L. Goh is charged with killing seven people and wounding three others at Oikos University. Several victims were shot multiple times.

California, which has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation, has passed 45 gun-control laws since 1989. None of these prevented Goh from purchasing the perfectly legal .45 caliber semiautomatic pistol that he allegedly used to dispatch his victims. He reportedly got around the state ban on high-capacity magazines by simply bringing extra lower capacity magazines to campus.

Because guns outnumber adults in the U.S., there’s no practical way to get them out of circulation. Forget about debating the Second Amendment — the gun lobby has carried the day by sheer dint of numbers. And it’s also true that criminals, by definition, tend not to obey the law. Restrictive regulations thus place more of a burden on the law-abiding than on their outlaw counterparts.

The only realistic strategy is to do everything possible to keep guns out of the wrong hands. Unfortunately, laws that make it easier for responsible citizens to acquire a firearm tend to make it easier for everybody else to get one as well. Take Missouri as an example.

The state used to require a prospective handgun buyer to obtain a permit from the county sheriff before the purchase. Said permit cost $10, and the sheriff had 10 days to approve or deny the application.

During the built-in waiting period, sheriff’s personnel not only performed the required criminal history check, but could also check references and interview neighbors to try to determine the applicant’s mental fitness to own deadly weapons. Should permission be denied, the aspiring gun owner could appeal the decision to the Equity Division of the Circuit Court.

The state legislature did away with the acquisition permit requirement several years ago. Now a buyer simply makes his selection(s) at a gun shop, after which the dealer phones in the federally mandated background check to a dedicated FBI line. If the subsequent computer check reveals no felony convictions, the transaction is approved. The whole process takes less than five minutes, after which the newly armed person is ready to rock ‘n roll.

Determining whether the person has presented a legitimate ID, or whether he may be making a straw-man purchase (a legal buyer purchasing a weapon on behalf of an individual who’s proscribed from owing one), is left to the dealer. The dealer, of course, only makes money on completed sales.

When it comes to relaxing gun laws, Missouri is hardly alone. Recently, the Kansas House passed a bill to allow concealed-carry within public buildings that lack “adequate security,” Oregon legislators defeated a proposal to ban guns on school grounds — including K-12 facilities – Virginia repealed a statute that limited residents to purchasing one gun per month, while Oklahoma lawmakers consider a provision to allow presently concealed weapons to be carried openly.

On the federal level, the NRA is backing legislation to provide national reciprocity for concealed-carry. That provision would provide concealed-carry licensees the right to carry their handguns in any state that issues such permits, regardless of the other state’s training and fitness requirements. If you can’t pass muster in Missouri, just get licensed under more relaxed standards elsewhere and you’re now good to go here.

In the retrospectively innocent late ’60s of my youth, Robert Crumb of Zap Comix famously encouraged readers to keep on truckin.’ Today, we might want to modify that friendly advice to accommodate a changed reality. As I tell my kids, “Keep on duckin’…”